Coaches help ballerinas refine their approach to a role. Over time, a bond can be forged as dancer and coach strive together toward a better result. Many of the greatest ballerinas credit their coaches with their success. When former American Ballet Theatre prima Susan Jaffe retired, she laid a bouquet of roses at the feet of her coach, Irina Kolpakova. Today, ABT’s Paloma Herrera works almost exclusively with Kolpakova, a former Kirov ballerina and ABT ballet master. Natalia Magnicaballi has done the same with the legendary Suzanne Farrell since she joined The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in 1999. Sarah Lamb, a principal with The Royal Ballet since 2006, works with ballet master Alexander Agadzhanov on her roles in the classics. Here is what these ballerinas have to say about the coaches who have provided them with invaluable guidance.
 

Paloma Herrera  

I joined ABT 20 years ago. The first variation I learned with the company was Amor in Don Quixote. Irina has been with me since the very first day—literally. She knows me inside out. I completely trust her. Whatever she says I will do, but I can ask her why to understand better. For me, it’s an amazing feeling because I always have those eyes on me during every performance. I’ve done ballets like Swan Lake and Don Q a lot. It’s great to go into the studio with those roles and know that we can take them somewhere else. She doesn’t say, “You have to do it this way and that’s the only way to do it.”   

Nobody knows you better than the coach who works with you all the time. They are going to tell you the truth. It is that working process that I love. You can go in the studio and rehearse a lot, but it’s not the same as having someone you can trust. Irina was an incredible dancer, but as a coach she always wants you to be as good as you can be. For dancers it is really important to keep pushing in every direction.

Irina has a lot of energy. She is always showing all the steps with such feeling. She sometimes says, “My English is so bad,” but I can understand right away what she is trying to say. It’s her being, the energy she gives the room. Even working on ballets like Alexei Ratmansky’s On the Dnieper and The Bright Stream—the choreography is so full—it’s a whole new way of dancing, of how to move. We found it together.

Natalia Magnicaballi
Working with Ms. Farrell inspires and nourishes me as an artist. Sometimes she will raise her hand right in front of me without saying a word and I’ll know exactly what she means, or with a few words she will give me the “feeling” of the role she is passing on, so I can think how to approach it. I feel it’s all about trust; you know she will always tell you what is best for you.

Something that I love about working with her is that she triggers my imagination and instincts as a dancer. She doesn’t want me to dance any ballet the way she or other dancers did. She encourages and guides me to find my way to make the ballets my own. With her, it’s very rare to watch a video to learn a ballet—she passes them directly to me.
               
Mr. Balanchine is regarded as the father of American ballet and Ms. Farrell as his muse. Through her passion, love and commitment, she has opened my eyes and heart to Mr. Balanchine’s fascinating worlds. His ballets, his legacy are handed directly to me from her. For me, as a ballerina, it’s more than special; it’s an honor.
 
Sarah Lamb
Alexander Agadzhanov is Ukrainian and had the same training I did—my teacher and coach was Tatiana Nicolaevna Legat of the Kirov—so I understand him. We have the same approach to classical roles, the same exacting nature and the same feeling of continuity. I don’t know the exact translation into English, but in Russian the word “cantilena” means grace and fluidity and plasticity, which are what make dance—all the steps in between, all the linking and preparations that accumulate and produce the image of liquidity.
          
Alexander demonstrates a lot, and partners me to show my partners how he wants them to do a certain step with me. He is always on his feet showing rather than telling. Sometimes I put too much force or energy into something when he knows if I attack it less I will sail around in a pirouette rather than turning quickly and finishing abruptly. He is really observant and can see not only what has gone wrong, but how it has gone wrong and then he corrects it. He isn’t pedantic, he won’t overanalyze. He simply says what is needed to ameliorate it. 

I feel I’ve grown in every role I have done with Alexander. He doesn’t impose his thoughts on me, but he will discuss certain points where he thinks I should change something and he always has a good reason. Often something that will work in close proximity doesn’t work in a theater and he has a real sense of theatricality and knows what is effective. Having a coach is a privilege—like having a private tutor. It’s a wonderful tradition in ballet.

Joseph Carman, a frequent contributor to Pointe, is author of Round About The Ballet.






















Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.


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New York City Ballet in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Lincoln Center.

Nutcracker season is upon us, with productions popping up in on stages in big cities and small towns around the country. But this year you can catch New York City Ballet's famous version on the silver screen, too. Lincoln Center at the Movies and Screen Vision Media are presenting a limited engagement of NYCB's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker at select cinemas nationwide starting December 2. It stars Ashley Bouder as Dewdrop and Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier.

While nothing beats seeing a live performance (the company's theatrical Nutcracker run opens Friday), the big screen will no doubt magnify some of this production's most breathtaking effects: the Christmas tree that grows to an impressive 40 feet, Marie's magical spinning bed, and the stunning, swirling snow scene. Click here to find a participating movie theater near you—then, go grab some popcorn.

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Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet rehearsing for "The Sleeping Beauty" for the 2017/18 season. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

Today the Pennsylvania Ballet's board of trustees announced the appointment of Shelly Power as its new executive director. Having been involved in the five-month international search, company artistic director Angel Corella said in a statement released by PAB that he's "certain Shelly is the best candidate to lead the administrative team that supports the artistic vision of the company." Power's official transition will begin in February. This news comes at the end of a few years of turmoil and turnover at PAB, including the departure of former executive director David Gray in June.

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Pointe Stars
Tiler Peck with Andrew Veyette in "Allegro Brillante." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

"I was particularly excited when I saw my name on casting for Allegro Brillante in 2009," remembers principal dancer Tiler Peck. "Balanchine had said Allegro was, 'everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes,' and of course that terrified me." To calm her fear, Peck followed her regular process for debuts: begin by going back to the original performers to get an idea of the quality and feeling of the ballet and ballerina. "It is never to imitate, but rather to surround myself with as much knowledge from the past as I can so that I can find my own way," says Peck.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT also offers sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast throughout the year.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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Your Best Body
Pilates hundred intermediate set-up, modeled by Jordan Miller. Photo by Emily Giacalone.

The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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Pointe Stars

At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


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